"When I let out a blood curdling yell and scream 'Jesus Christ you're going to kill someone' I'd like you to apply the brakes..."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stepmother and stepdaughter sit in driveway, teenager at wheel. Sun is out. Car is shiny. Nerves are tense but intact.

“OK, ready?”

“Ready.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“OK, if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure!”

“OK, let’s go.”

Car stalls.

“What you do you think you did wrong?”

Teenager looks accusingly at car. Stepmother points delicately at lifted handbrake.

“Right,” says teenager.

“Let’s try again.”

And so begins another driving lesson at the Baker/Kaprowy household.

For the past hour, I’ve been trying to figure out how to formulate the rest of this column. It’s giving me pause because I have so very, very much I can write on this topic. First, I’ll say that Gabrielle turned 16 last March. In Kentucky, in order to graduate from driving with adults, you need to log in 60 hours of driving time. So that means driving school is now in the hands of parents.

In the past eight months, William and I have learned that, when it comes to pedagogy, we suck. Combine teaching inside a moving vehicle that we are not operating, and certain personality traits tend to surface.

For example, William becomes Ultra Teacher. Sitting in the back seat trying to be Zen, I’ve heard William correct Gabrielle no less than 14 times in the span of a mile. Allow me an example:

“You’re driving too far on the right side of the lane.”

“OK.”

“Still too far.”

“OK.”

“If you are too far on the right, you are going to catch the wheels on the grass and you are going to lose control of the vehicle.”

“OK.”

“Look far ahead of you, don’t look immediately in front.”

“OK.”

“Nice and smooth.”

“Got it.”

“If you don’t mind, don’t drive off this ravine because you are DRIVING TOO FAR ON THE RIGHT.”

To be fair to William, Gabrielle has, on one small occasion, actually driven off the road because she was too far on the right, forcing William to grab the wheel and apply the handbrake and resort to some other life-saving measures to which I am not privy because I was not there. I was, however, present when they returned home. Gabrielle was decidedly pale and quiet. William immediately requested that I make him an alcoholic beverage.

Now, as much as Ultra Teacher can be heavy handed, I will say that he serves a purpose, namely to instruct and inform. My teaching style, on the other hand, is nearly completely ineffectual. I call myself Silent Braker.

See, when I learned how to drive, every driving lesson ended with me in tears. Granted, learning how to drive also meant learning how to drive stick and teaching someone that skill is stressful because as they lurch on and on, they are essentially ruining the car. Still, my dad was capital-T Tense and capital-N Not Afraid to Yell at Me, which resulted in me being capital-D Devastated.

So when it came to helping Gabrielle learn how to drive — and, incidentally, learning how to drive means she’s also learning how to drive stick — I decided I would be extremely light-hearted and casual about it. Stall the car? Haha, funny, right? Stomp on the brakes? Haha. Ha.

So far, I think I’ve been marginally successful at being laid-back. Except, of course, when we’re on an actual highway and we’re coming on a light and there is a pile of cars in front and behind and Gabrielle is driving too fast, way too fast for the conditions.

That’s when Silent Braker arises. You can detect her existence by looking at her right foot on the floor board of the passenger seat. See, as Gabrielle approaches the line of traffic too fast? Silent Braker presses down that right foot, hard, unthinkingly, as if she were pressing on a brake herself to stop the car. If you look closely, Silent Braker is applying her pretend brake with quite a lot of force. In fact, sometimes her toes curl inside her shoe. However, since she does not actually have a brake under her foot, this movement is of absolutely no use. Realizing this at the moment Gabrielle stops quickly, Silent Braker usually lets out a squeak or a “Sweet Jesus” or a “Thank God.”

As for the driver herself, Miss Gabrielle Baker, I can say she has a healthy respect for driving. And by that I mean: She’s pretty anxious. That could have everything to do with William and I (luckily, her other two parents are actually trained as teachers so I’m guessing they’re having more success), but “easy breezy” is not the term I would apply to Gabrielle behind the wheel.

And who can blame her? When you’re teaching someone how to drive, especially drive stick, you realize that, actually, it is a complicated skill. All of the things you do subconsciously on the road, anticipating and shoulder checking and changing lanes and stopping smoothly, take time to acquire.

So, dear readers, I ask you to wish us luck. We have 40 more hours of practice with Gabrielle before she’ll be road worthy. At this rate, she’ll be ready to drive on her own by age 18. In the mean time, I’ll ask you simply to watch out on the road. There may be a couple of high-strung teachers and a white-faced teenager in your midst.

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